• Old faces in forgotton places November 29th, 2011

    “For people who must live from day to day, past and future have small relevance, and their grasp of it is fleeting; they live in the moment, a very precious gift that we have lost.”(Peter Matthiessen)

    Some people said the island had changed since I first came here 10 years ago. Not the place it once was and all that. Back then I spent several weeks here: charmed, captivated and entranced by the atmosphere of this colonial treasure-chest.

    Well the charm remains. Nothing has ‘really’ changed about Ilha de Mozambique (Mozambique Island). It’s that kind of forgotten place where change happens slowly. The crumbling villas, imposing white-washed churches and crowded squalor of the Macuti (palm-thatch) town where most of the island’s population live continue to leave the visitor with the same impression. This is a must-visit place in Africa, and one which probably sees far less visitors than it deserves.

    Boys on the beach

    I’m staying in the same place I did before, although the family had trouble remembering me. “I think you were fatter before?” asked Luis, the owner. “And you were slimmer” I replied laughing.

    A 3km-long bridge connects what was once the capital of Mozambique with the mainland, but I arrived more fittingly by dhow, slowly tacking back and forth over the turquoise shallows as I watched the island’s features take form.

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    Home-made boat

    Approaching Mozambique Island

    Mosque on Mozambique Island

    Palace Museum Mozambique Island

    Fort on Mozambique Island

    My journey up to here had continued along the coast, leaving Pemba’s tarmac on another dirt track towards Mecufi and the River Lurio. No bridges or boats again, but fortunately very little water as I followed bicycle-tyre tracks across a dry sandy riverbed to leave one province and enter another. I had now reached the limits of Swahili-speaking territory. Macua is the dominant local language spoken from now on.

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    The heat has been oppressive again – a daily furnace from about 7am and only saved by the occasional breeze. Colourless mud-hut villages have the shade of mango trees as a refuge. Here I frequently stopped to rest, and with mangoes now in season bought them whenever I could. They were one of the few things available at the roadside. In larger settlements bread is sometimes available. The options are minimal.

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    Rural Mozambique

    Mangoes for sale

    Bread on Mozambique Island

    Rural infrastructure in Mozambique is comparable to what it was in the DRC. There is no accommodation and very little food. Village camping is by now a very familiar procedure for me in Africa, where most of the inhabitants of a place that may never have had a white face stop by in take great delight in observing how the unexpected foreigner constructs his home for the night, then prepares a meal of spaghetti and most often tinned sardines fried with onion and garlic. I rarely ever self-catered or camped in east Africa – street food and basic lodgings were cheap and easily available in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. In Mozambique they’re not. In one town I was directed to a Pensao (Guest House) where the Portuguese owner showed me a tiny room with an unmade bed. The heat inside was suffocating. He shrugged his shoulders when I replied that $12 was expensive, so I pedalled to the edge of the town and pitched my tent next to the mosque. I’m camping almost the whole time here.

    Village camp

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    Part of me could happily spend longer here on Mozambique Island, but my 30-day visa expires in 10 days and the cost/wait to extend it doesn’t feel worth the effort. Mozambique is the most expensive country I have come through on this journey.

    After having followed the coast this far south I’m turning inland from here and bidding farewell to salt and sand. Looks like land-locked Malawi for Christmas.

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    Mozambique Island

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    Football at sunset

  • The Mambo Vipi test: Into Mozambique November 19th, 2011

    “Of the wide range of surface defects available in Africa, corrugations are, for the cyclist, the most uncomfortable though not the most tiring”. (Devla Murphy)

    There was no shortage of willing oarsmen waiting at the riverbank. This was the end of the road in Tanzania. Ahead lay the Ruvuma River, and beyond that Mozambique. Like many large African rivers it was difficult to see where the far side was. Islands of reeds, tall grasses and tidal sand bars made what was a massive waterway seem less dramatic. Seen from the air it would have been more impressive.

    I wasn’t paddled, but reassuringly punted across. Had the small rowing boat capsized I would at least have been able to stand up with head and shoulders above the surface. The thought always goes through my mind when taking a boat in Africa. What would happen if this thing sinks? I imagine trying to tread water holding onto all 50kg of my bike and luggage. I’d end up going down with it. Fortunately it was a peaceful crossing – at least once the fuss over who was going to take me had been settled.

    I paid around $5, which was what I had left in Tanzanian shillings. My punter was more ripped than a cover model of Men’s health magazine, but I still held my ground when he and his teenage mate demanded extra. I know I’d paid them more than enough for 30 minutes of their time, although the Slovenian motorcyclist I’d met near Lindi had paid $50, and I’d read of overlanders in 4x4s paying upwards of $250. Well life is always simpler and cheaper on a bicycle.

    I spent my first night in Mozambique camping outside the immigration post -something I’ve done at a number of remote African border crossings (Sierra Leone, Ghana, Kenya). There is usually never a problem, but bored immigration officials usually like to drink, and perhaps see some kind of trade-off that if you’re camping on their turf you won’t mind getting the drinks in. Best to yawn early and disappear inside one’s tent.

    Mural in Mocimboa

    Now that I’d entered a former Portuguese colony I assumed the Swahili I’d got used to speaking in the previous several months would be of no use. Fortunately not. Being at heart a coastal language, Swahili is probably equally as well understood on the shores of Somalia as it is here in northern Mozambique.

    One of the most enjoyable aspects of learning and speaking Swahili is the multitude of words used as a form of greeting, or as a reply to a greeting. Jambo, the first word a tourist might learn in east Africa, is rarely used in Tanzania. It is the informal ‘Mambo Vipi’ (‘how’s it going?’) that one hears commonly on the street. The most popular reply to which is ‘Poa’ (fine)) or any number of other words (nzima, shwari, muzuka, bomba, fresh, safi, kawaida, kabisa – I think that’s most of them?) Young children respectfully greet those older than them with a ‘Shikamou’, to which the reply is Marhaba, and then there is the widespread Islamic ‘Salama Aleikum’ should you wish to please/surprise one of the skull-capped men sitting in the village shade. Well they still apply, to a weaker degree, in northern Mozambique, and so my calling out of ‘Mambo Vipi’ continues to receive replies, albeit less so as I’ve come south.

    The roads, for the most part, have been terrible, although that is partly my own choosing. If corrugated roads, as Devla Murphy points out, are the most uncomfortable of surfaces in Africa, sandy roads are definitely the most tiring. Northern Mozambique has plenty of these. Whether cycling on a semi-compact surface or off the bike and pushing it through deep trenches of the stuff, the experience is a draining one. Throw 40 degree+ temperatures and a constant swarm of energetic flies trailing your back and dive bombing your ears into the mix and the experience becomes even less pleasant.

    Northern Mozambique

    Struggling in the sand

    What is it with flies in this part of Africa? They’re worse than anywhere I can remember. Worst of all are the tsetse flies, possibly the most annoying and curse-raging of all Africa’s cornucopia of flying insects. Tsetse flies (horse flies) don’t buzz. They just silently land on you and then bite – sometimes quite painfully. Historically it is the presence of tsetse flies that left many parts of the African bush undeveloped. My black panniers don’t help matters. Apparently tsetse flies prefer dark surfaces. Their presence on the small sandy tracks in the north of Mozambique is a reflection of how undeveloped this part of the country is. I could also say wild, for there was a fair amount of elephant shit to weave around on the tracks, which perhaps explained why some of the brave souls living in huts along the roadside had fortified their small compound with 10ft high poles of wood dug into the ground – the first time I have seen this in Africa. The elephants are probably sensible enough to stay inactive and rest in the shade during the day. I haven’t seen any.

    Pre-warning

    The first town of any significance one reaches coming south from the Tanzanian border is Mocimboa Da Praia, which boasts a non-functioning ATM machine and an Internet connection costing more than $1 for 15 minutes. There are a number of Portuguese-era buildings lining the orderly grid of roads, and socialist-style monuments to the country’s independence. Reasons to stay appeared short and I had a feeling there wasn’t much in the way of budget accommodation, an irony for a place that looked like it should have been brimming with it. I recall Mozambique being more expensive than the rest of southern and east Africa from when I travelled here 10 years ago. I don’t think things have changed. Western prices with African standards is what I read somewhere.

    Independence monument in Mocimboa

    I continued south from Mocimboa on the road my map was labelling as the 247. This was a continuation of the same road that had brought me from the Tanzanian border. I knew it was a dirt track, but the fact it bore a number gave me the impression that it was a ‘designated’ road. Perhaps at one stage in the past it was, but what began as a graded track soon gave way to sand and then a narrow track ending in a mangrove swamp. Fantastic. This was not in the plan.

    After the mangroves

    “You will have to cross two rivers” had said a perplexed teenager in the nearby village of Marare as I sipped sweet tea and dunked it with bread (chapattis alas are no more, but hurrah for the return of good bread!). His mate was beside himself in hysterics when I showed my surprise that there was no bridge or ferry.

    The wheel arches of my bike were jammed with soft sticky mangrove mud when I made it to the first river. To begin with it seemed a good idea to wash the mud off, but the water was brackish and I’ve had enough salt getting into the bike as it is in the past few months. As I had been warned there was no bridge, no boat and not a soul around to call for help. Going back would have been a serious detour, so I lay the bike on the sandy riverbank and waded across. If salt water crocodiles exist in Mozambique this looked like a great place for them to hang out.

    River criosing

    My first attempt at wading across the river was unsuccessful. I stepped into a deep channel and the water rose above my shoulders. I walked/swam out and pushed the bike upriver to where I could see an emerging sand bank. With the tide on the way out time was in my favour. This time round I made it across(60 metres to the sand bank and a further 15 metres to the far bank) with the river below waist-height most of the way. I transported the bags and bike in 4 journeys, careful not to lose my footing on the muddy riverbed. At high tide this would have been harder, and in the rainy season with a much stronger current I’d have probably detoured and gone back to Mocimboa, where a paved road runs inland and south.

    After reassembling the bike and cycling through harvested fields of rice I had to repeat the process again – more mangroves, mud and another river. As far as I could tell there was never a bridge across either of the rivers. Which foolish cartographer/planner had given this road a number? It would be inaccessible to any motorised transport.

    I spent the following 2 nights sleeping beneath palm trees on a stunning stretch of coastline. My host Ismail told me the village name was Nfunzi. The plan had been to reach Pangane, some 6km further on, where I remembered reading something about a campsite in a Lonely Planet guidebook. I never made it owing to all that sand again. When I saw the sea up close I stopped. A nearby woman laughed at me struggling. I asked in Swahili if I could sleep where I was and she led me to Ismail’s home.

    Like everywhere else in Africa I arrived unannounced. Ismail and his family spoke Kimwani, which is closely related to Swahili. On one side of their palm-thatched shack lay rice fields and on the other the turquoise shallows of the Indian Ocean. Carbohydrates from one source and protein from another. Life couldn’t have been simpler.

    Young fisherman

    Girl in Nfunzi village

    Beach at Nfunzi

    My surroundings were unexpectedly replaced with a dose of luxury when I continued south on yet another sandy track. “We’ve just come from Guludu Beach Lodge. You should go and say hi. There are some English people working there”. The news came through the window of a 4×4 transporting 4 white faces. They’d passed me several days earlier on a similarly terrible stretch of road and probably thought it time to stop and greet the crazy cyclist.

    I duly headed towards Guludu Beach Lodge and met another white face driving towards me in a land rover. “Just going to collect some sand. I’m Harry by the way”. I thought this was a joke on my behalf. Why anyone in this part of Mozambique would need to go anywhere to collect sand I’m not sure. “Isn’t it everywhere”? I suggested. “There’s a particularly sandy stretch up ahead. Go and meet my girlfriend and I’ll be back shortly”.

    Down at the beach I met 4 other young foreigners working at Guludu Beach Lodge – a simple, eco-friendly, beautiful and way-out-of-my-budget resort. There are lots of places like this in Africa, but Mozambique seems to specialise in luxury resorts – the type that appear in the Sunday Times travel section where you can experience the beauty of Africa and the Indian Ocean for the bargain price of something like £2500 for 10 days, excluding flights. It is another World from life on the road.

    The plan had just been to say hi and possibly get some information about the road ahead, but a very generous discount on a room had me content to pretend that I too could have booked my holiday through the Sunday Times. I’m not sure when the last time was that I slept on a bed with a proper mattress.

    Guludu Beach Lodge

    Harry and his girlfriend Caitlin had found jobs at Guludu through a website called escapethecity.com, and their surroundings were definitely a change of scenery from sitting at an office desk from 9-5.

    I would have stayed a second night had the local employees not told me that if I wanted to reach Quissanga and the road south to Pemba then I would have to take a boat leaving very early in the morning. There definitely was no road ahead, despite my map depicting one.

    And so the Guludu team waved me off the next afternoon before I rejoined the sand track for another 15km, bringing me to the village of Darumba/Mipange. Here the road really did end. I pitched the tent in a school teacher’s compound and set my alarm for 3.45am the next morning on learning that a boat would sail to Quissanga starting after 4am. Sure enough it did, with surprisingly few passengers – a peaceful journey between the mainland and the Quirimba islands.

    Dhow between the Quirimba islands

    Dhow to Quissanga

    Road to Pemba

    The following day I rolled into Pemba, where I sit now in a campsite/lodge I first came to 10 years ago. It’s a lot busier than I remember it to be. Down the road there is some American-financed mission with hundreds of young missionary volunteers. A group of them were having a discussion last night about whether there is a sushi restaurant in Mozambique. Apparently Maputo has one. I haven’t spoken to any of them. It would be interesting to hear what their impressions are of Mozambique and Africa. My tent resides under a cashew tree away from the bar and my stove for the first time in many months is getting frequent use again. In Tanzania or Kenya I could just pop out onto the street to find cheap eats. Not here it seems.

    For the first time in weeks my bike is now free of sand and salt. It’s tempting to finally use the paved road to take me further south, but I seem to be drawn to small roads that end at bridgeless rivers. There is another one between here and Nacala.

    Young Mozambican girl

  • Never die: The Bagamoyo boat October 11th, 2011

    It would have been simpler, needless to say a whole lot safer to leave Zanzibar on one of the regular high-speed ferries that shuttle back and forth to Dar es Salaam. The moment one approaches the port there is no shortage of commission-hungry touts waiting to escort you to one of many ticket offices. Here the ticket price will be quoted in US dollars (double or several times the local resident price) and you will be whisked away in air-conditioned comfort on a boat that maintains a schedule. Travel in places where there are lots of tourists is sometimes just too easy.

    Taking a dhow on the other hand is something foreigners generally only do at sunset – one of the listed ‘things to do’ in many guidebooks to the island I’m sure. Great if you’re romancing a girl on your holidays, less so if you’re not. Yet for centuries this is how everyone arrived on or departed from the island.

    Coming from the mainland most would have started their journey in Bagamoyo – at one time the capital of German East Africa, and before that a terminus for thousands of slaves who’d been marched eastwards out of Central Africa. Those that survived the journey dubbed the town ‘Bwagamoyo’ – meaning ‘crush your heart’. Here they awaited a sea voyage, first to nearby Zanzibar, and then across the Arabian Sea towards their final destination somewhere in the Gulf.

    It’s also where all those 19th Century explorers arrived on the continent and set off into the interior with their enormous entourage of porters. Stanley, Grant, Burton, Speke, and most famously David Livingstone all came here. For the latter it was where he would end his time in Africa – he arrived dead having been carried 1500 miles by his porters from Lake Bangweulu in Zambia.

    Bagamoyo has long since been replaced by Dar es Salaam, 70 km further south, as the centre of commercial activity along the Tanzanian coast, but it remains the shortest sea route between island and mainland (just 20 nautical miles), and that obviously favoured by boats which rely on sail power.

    Well it was a sail-powered boat to the mainland that I was interested in, but there was no ticket office advertising the journey. That is probably because there aren’t tickets for dhows plying the Zanzibar-Bagamoyo route on a daily basis. These are essentially cargo-boats, as they always have been, transporting anything from charcoal and cement, to tomatoes, salt, used-clothes and scrap metal. Passengers, if there any, sit on top. There is no time-table. Boats go when sufficiently loaded (very often overloaded) and the captain decides.

    Before leaving Zanzibar a large veiled woman at the immigration office made me write my own declaration – stating something to the effect that the captain of the boat would bear no responsibility for any eventuality on his boat. This was tempting fate. Moments before I’d stopped beside some graffiti that made me contemplate whether taking a dhow back to the mainland was a wise thing to do.  The graffiti read: Never die.

    Stone Town Graffiti

    The dhow that was to take me contained half a dozen or more freezers and refrigerators, plus a lot of old car tyres. Besides me there were 12 other people aboard: 10 crew, a man carrying several DVD players he said he was going to sell in Dar (how could these have possibly been cheaper on Zanzibar I have no idea) and a teenage boy who spent half of the 4-hour crossing vomiting over the side.

    Dhow port: Stone Town

    Before getting underway I lashed my bike with bungee cords up against the wooden mast at the front of the boat. It wasn’t going to move, but within minutes of clearing Stone Town, colliding with a partially submerged small tanker on the way, it was soaked. Very soon after so was I. But what I feared to be a boat too heavily-laden actually seemed to act in her favour. She rode over the 2-3 metre waves most of the time, but we were too close to what was a choppy sea and the southerly wind was strong enough (Force 5?) to ensure this would not be a dry journey. Had the dhow been empty however we would have rolled all over the place.

    Bike onboard

    It was dangerous journey in many respects, (there were no life jackets, I didn’t know the captain’s experience, the weather could have suddenly changed) but sitting at the stern with a jovial crew eager to hear my limited Swahili as I watched them steering this age-old vessel to shore was one of those journeys you don’t forget.

    Sleeping crew

    Dhow crewman

    I almost lost a pannier on arriving at Bagamoyo. The dhow ran aground several hundred metres from shore and we would need to take a small paddle boat to reach dry land. The problem was it was dark, and moving a bicycle with 6 bags when you are alone means you either leave things out of your sight for some minutes or you hope someone nearby will aid you. Well a mzungu in such a situation is usually always aided in Africa. Once I paid the Captain 10,000tsh ($6) for the journey (a sum that hadn’t been discussed before we left Zanzibar, but I knew was close to what a passenger should pay) I was lifting bike from one boat to another and being paddled towards the shore.

    Arriving alone in unfamiliar African towns in the dark is always best avoided. As I started to re-attach panniers to the bike – having had them carried by the boat porter as we waded through the shallows to the beach, (I carried my bike) I realised one of the front panniers was missing. I turned round and the boat porter had disappeared back into the darkness. Great.

    For the next 20 minutes I stood on the beach next to the crumbling remains of Bagamoyo’s old Customs Office assessing what my losses were. The pannier was still in the small paddle boat surely, but I couldn’t just leave my bike and bags and go back in search of it.

    Old Customs House: Bagamoyo

    The passenger carrying the DVD players came to the rescue. He spoke more English than I do Swahili. Guarding his ‘Simsung’ DVD players he disappeared back into the shallows and emerged triumphant with the missing bag. Hurrah. I had made it to Bagamoyo – body, bike and bags intact. Now I just had to find a place to watch the Rugby – not so easy in this part of the World.

    Bagamoyo beach

    Waiting women

    Dhows in Bagamoyo

    Fish fryer on Bagamoyo beach

  • Zanzibar revisited September 22nd, 2011

    “”there are certain places, surrounded by a halo of romance, to which the inevitable disillusionment which you must experience on seeing them gives a singular spice”. (Somerset Maugham)

    The village of Kipumwe wasn’t marked on my map, but I was assured there were dhows sailing to Zanzibar from there. The plan had been to reach neighbouring Pemba first, but unless I was going pay a lot and charter a boat alone, this option wasn’t available.

    Following the recent sinking of the overloaded MV Spice Islander, in which some 240 people died in the Zanzibar channel, I really ought to have been more careful in choosing what vessel I took to transport me over the sea.

    A bearded man in a skull cap greeted me with a grin when I rolled into this small coastal village at the end of a dirt track. Unatakwenda Zanzibar, he asked as I looked out at a flotilla of large dhows moored some 50 metres offshore. It seems I had come to the right place.

    Zanzibar arrival

    I met the Captain shortly afterwards. He led me through a dark mud-brick house away from a huddle of women and children. I assumed with all their baggage that they were passengers too. The Captain spoke no English and neither did his ticket collecting mate, who wanted 30,000 shillings ($20) for my fare. I would have paid it if I knew this was the going rate. It wasn’t. I’d already seen 10,000 shillings being exchanged and 3000 shillings returned with a ticket. I naturally wanted the same. The Captain laughed and pointed at my bike. I said I’d pay 10,000 then.

    I never got my ticket. It soon grew dark and I waited beneath a row of tall rustling palm trees on a concrete veranda. Sitting, standing and lying alongside me were dozens of other people. I wondered how many dhows were going to sail that night.

    “Just one”, said Zulu, a Kenyan who was travelling to Zanzibar to see relatives affected by the recent sinking. He was the only English speaker there. I thought the Captain had said we would leave at 1am and that the journey would take 4 hours. Zulu corrected me and said that it would be 4am that we left. As for how long it would take, he used that wonderfully frustrating answer I usually get when asking about distance in Africa (in this case applied to time) – “not long.”

    It was impossible to count how many people were on that dhow. I stood on the moonlit shore and watched as they rushed into a small rowing boat making numerous trips out to where it was moored. I guessed it was no longer than 45ft long. From what I could make out it looked ancient, which at least said that it had been on the seas for some time and hadn’t sunk.

    Without the bike it would have been far easier to travel, but with the help of Zulu and those seeing an opportunity for some loose change I was able to transport my companion from shore to rowing boat to the bow of the dhow, lying it flat with me somehow wedged between back wheel and a wooden beam and my head under the boom. For a moment I contemplated asking the Captain if he had life jackets on board, but I already knew the answer.

    It was only when the seas started to calm and I could see a growing light on the eastern horizon that my nerves started to ease. I assumed that once we were clear of the shore the small outboard engine would be cut and that distinctive triangular white sail hoisted, but we were heading on a south eastwards bearing – straight into the wind. I also assumed that the 4am departure was made because the winds at this time were at their lightest, which was probably true.

    As the sun rose out of the ocean I turned to try and count how many passengers were squeezed into the dhow. It was still impossible – 60-70 maybe, and then there were all the infants clutching onto a chest. There was little conversation amongst that scrum. Some chose to sleep in whatever position they had managed to find themselves when boarding the boat in the darkness, and others looked out vacantly in the direction of Zanzibar. I wanted to take a photo of them all huddled together, but taking pictures of people enduring some hard-ship is always a bit insensitive. Had they been able to afford it most would have happily preferred to travel by high-speed catamaran to the island.

    After about 4 hours of motoring Zulu pointed out a low whitish ridge on the horizon. My nerves eased further. This was Tumbato island, which lies off the north western coast of Zanzibar. The seas, which had fortunately been calm, became even calmer as we slowly approached land, and the dark blueness of the deep channel lightened to a dazzling shade of turquoise. I almost wanted to jump in and swim ashore.

    Arriving in Zanzibar

    I first came to Zanzibar 11 years ago on a much larger, but no less reassuring boat, from Dar es Salaam. Then, like most people who come by boat to the island, I had arrived in Stone Town. As with many tourist destinations in poor places there was an eager crowd of young touts and hangers-on waiting to whisk me away to the best/cheapest Guest House. I used to hate this aspect of travel. I rarely witness it now.

    My over-loaded dhow arrived safely in the quiet fishing village of Mkokotoni, some 20km south of the northern tip of Zanzibar. There was not a mzungu in sight, and the young immigration official naturally seemed surprised I had arrived on the island in such manner. “I think you like the adventure”. I told him I was happy the seas were calm. I too was equally surprised that my passport was getting an entry stamp. Zanzibar belongs to Tanzania, but is a semi-autonomous state.

    Mkokotoni at low tide

    Small islands are always a pleasure to cycle on. The sea is never far from sight and traffic is usually light. Well this is the case on Zanzibar, where the roads are also well-paved.

    From Mkokotoni I headed to Nungwi, the northern most point of the island. This is an interesting destination. On one side of the village here there are veiled women walking between narrow sandy streets and local fishermen mending nets, while a short walk along the beach brings you to a stretch of sand and rocky outcrops where sun-worshipping Italians mingle with Italian-speaking Maasai tribesmen. I don’t remember this from Zanzibar before. Half the children here, and in other parts of the island where large resorts fly the green, red and white flag, one gets greeted with a ciao. There are several direct weekly flights I think between Italy and Zanzibar.

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    With all the Mzungu money coming to Zanzibar finding a cheap hotels is not easy. Guest Houses offer basic rooms for around $20 and beach-front restaurants advertise catch of the day at around half that price. For those in Africa for a few weeks, finishing their Safari and/or Kilimanjaro ascent, such prices are a continuation of what they will have spent on the mainland. Zanzibar in actual fact might seem cheap if you’ve done a safari in the Serengeti. For the long-termers like me it’s an expensive destination, unless you’re willing to side-line the sunset views and al-fresco on-the-beach dining. There is usually someone around with a spare room you can rent for less, and then there’s camping, which is supposedly illegal on Zanzibar.

    Nungwi beach

    Beached dhow

    Morning catch: Tuna

    Sunset at Nungwi

    From Nungwi I headed south along the east coast. Here the tide retreats a long way from the blinding white sand, and the south east monsoon winds carry the roar of the surf, visible some kilometres away as it breaks on the reef. It provides a perfect opportunity for beach cycling, which is what many of the locals do.

    Morning swim stop

    Seaweed drying

    In the somnolent village of Bwejuu I pitched the tent for a few nights before continuing south past Paje and Jambiani. I stayed in one of these villages before, but can’t remember which one. I saw many foreigners but spoke to very few. It might be a measure of how long I’ve been on the road that I often don’t have the energy to strike up a conversation from scratch, which often brings with it all the questions associated with why I would want to and how could I cycle from England to Tanzania.

    East coast Zanzibar

    East Coast Zanzibar

    Beach cycling at low tide

    Pause on Paje beach

    Jambiani, Zanzibar

    At the southern end of the island the locals thought I’d come to see the dolphins and whales that can supposedly be viewed off the coast. The sunset camping and beach swimming were enough, before I turned north to Stone Town, which is where I am now.

    Sunset Kizimkazi

    Beach camp Zanzibar

    With it’s warren of narrow labyrinthine alleyways Zanzibar’s old Stone town is really the heart and soul of the island. Here is the history, the architecture and the atmosphere that evokes all that is exotic about this location. I wheeled my bike inside, asked a random shop-keeper where I could find a room and was soon shown a place that with a bit of bargaining matched what I wanted to pay. I’m here until Saturday, when I hope to continue by boat to Pemba.

    Zanzibar island

  • Waiting for a boat September 10th, 2011

    “There are three things which if one does not know, one cannot live long in the world: what is too much for one, what is too little for one, and what is just right for one.” (Swahili proverb)

    The sky is definitely bluer on the east African coast. Here the wind blows in off an ocean and not out of a desert, which is often the case throughout much of west Africa. Even as far south as Cameroon that Saharan wind – the harmattan, caused the mountains to become lost in a dust-filled haze and the sun to disappear long before it reached the horizon. Well not anymore. That cleansed azure sky should be over me all the way south, assuming I follow the coast into Mozambique and don’t encounter a rainy season. The wind direction might be more of a concern though.

    The small road I mentioned at the end of the last post was well worth the extra kilometres and bumps – all the mountain scenery without a climb basically. In fact I was going downhill much of the time.

    Road to Tanga

    Leaving the Pare mountains

    Sandwiched between the Mkomazi Game Reserve that stretches to the border with Kenya on my left, and the 2000 metre+ Pare and Usambara mountain chain to my right, I was out there alone. One of those roads that sees a bus or two a day servicing the small villages that no-one really visits.

    Behind the Usambaras

    It was a biker’s road, and I guess other mzungus on two wheels with time on their side might have passed this way. But then I don’t mind the dirt tracks. In fact I seek them out, whereas some like to stick to the smooth stuff, even if it means sharing the road with a lot of the 4-wheeled enemy.

    Leaving the Usambaras

    For the first time in a very long time I set up camp alone in the bush – a mine-field of 4-inch thorns waiting to make a mockery of those Schwalbe XR tyres and my new thermarest mattress. I got away unscathed, but I imagine a lot of wild-camping spots in months to come will present the same inhospitality.

    Bike and baobabs

    Maize field at sunset

    I’m sat next to a white beach under swaying palm trees now waiting for a boat. There are many worse places to be waiting I know. The only scheduled boat travelling between Tanga and Pemba (the neighbouring but much less-visited island in the Zanzibar archipelago) leaves on a Tuesday morning.

    Dhow on Kigombe beach

    Although that might have changed now. After I wrote the initial draft of this post I received news that is now making World headlines. Sobering. It’s not the boat I was planning to be on, but even still. I cannot imagine there will be too many ferries operating between the mainland and the islands at the moment. The Tanzanian Government has declared three days of national mourning. Perhaps better to look for a local boat that isn’t going to be over-loaded.

    I assumed that with all the Dhows that ply up and down the Swahili coast it would be easy enough to find or enquire about local transport between the mainland and Pemba. Well perhaps I’ve asked the wrong people or haven’t found the right place. Nothing in Tanzania seems to happen very quickly you see. Tanga, Tanzania’s second busiest port, still seems to be languishing in post-Ramadan stupor, but I think the atmosphere is always pole pole here.

    Dhow at Sunset: Tanga

    Just under 100 years ago the British attempted to seize control of the then German-administered port and colony in the Battle of Tanga, but were apparently chased off by wild bees rather than a much weaker German army. Tanga is left with a mixture of German and British era buildings, but it’s a long time to spend a week in.

    Battle of Tanga

    Bananas at the market

    So I’ve migrated 30km down the coast to Kigombe – a small village where the pace of life is even slower. I’m camping under a palm-thatched shelter, which does a good job at keeping the sun and falling coconuts off my tent. It’s very much pass-the-day–in-a-hammock territory, which I guess many spots in Pemba and Zanzibar offer, although I’m also hoping there is a good network of roads to explore on two wheels, assuming I make it out there. My thoughts at the moment go out to all the poor families here in Tanzania who lost relatives in the recent ferry disaster.

    Kids on the beach

    Girl on out-rigger

    Tongoni beach